Do Cat Scratches Hurt: When to Worry and How to Heal

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There’s nothing quite like the surprising sting of a cat scratch. We’ve all been there – peacefully petting our furry friend, when out of the blue, a sharp claw rakes across our skin. Should a cat scratch hurt, how much, and for how long?

The Short Answer

Yes, cat scratches can certainly cause discomfort, and the duration of the pain can vary. Typically, the initial sting subsides in a few minutes, but lingering tenderness may last for a few hours, or longer. However, there’s a lot more to understand about cat scratches than just the initial pain.

From learning what happens when a cat lightly scratches you to exploring why some scratches puff up – there’s a world behind those quick, sharp swipes of the paw. Let’s take a look of what’s normal, and what’s a cause for concern.

Key takeaways:

  • Light cat scratches can cause brief, minor pain.
  • Clean the scratch promptly to prevent infection.
  • Minor pain for a few hours is normal. Pain increasing over the next two days is not.
  • Monitor the scratch for signs of infection: excessive pain, swelling, redness, or pus.
  • Seek medical help if these symptoms appear or persist beyond two days.

cat scratch on a person's leg

What Happens if a Cat Lightly Scratches You?

When a cat lightly scratches you, it barely breaks the skin, but you’ll feel a sharp sensation as their claws are incredibly sharp and pointy.

This initial sting is caused by the disturbance of the nerve endings in your skin. It’s usually not a cause for alarm and the minor pain should dissipate in a few minutes. However, this doesn’t mean the danger is over.

Remember to clean the area thoroughly though, as even light scratches can carry bacteria from the cat’s claws into your skin, which may lead to an infection if not properly cleaned.

Cat Scratch Hurts: Should You Be Worried?

Experiencing pain after a cat scratch is normal due to the initial wound and inflammation. The initial sting should only last a few moments, but a lingering, dull pain can persist for a few hours. 

However, intense pain or discomfort that persists for several days, is not usual and could be a sign of an infection. If your scratch feels more painful than a comparable minor wound (such as a paper cut), or if the pain increases over time instead of gradually fading, it’s a cause for concern. 

The presence of other symptoms like swelling, redness, or warmth around the scratch are also warning signs. If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s best to seek medical advice promptly.

Most cat scratches are harmless, but it’s crucial to monitor your symptoms and act appropriately to prevent complications. Stray cats, however, pose a greater risk. If you’ve been scratched by a stray cat, follow our stray cat scratch safety guide.

The Pain of a Cat Scratch: How Long Does it Last?

The discomfort from a cat scratch typically fades within a few minutes to an hour, depending on the severity of the scratch. However, tenderness or soreness might linger for a few hours to a day.

While everyone’s body reacts differently, if the scratch is kept clean and dry, the pain should not persist beyond two days. Any persistent pain beyond 48 hours is not typical for a minor scratch and could suggest an infection or a deeper wound.

One thing to remember is that not all cat scratches are created equal. Lighter scratches that merely graze the skin surface tend to heal faster and cause less discomfort compared to deeper, more severe scratches. Deeper ones could also leave permanent scars.

If your pain lasts for more than two days or gets progressively worse during this time, it could be a sign of infection, and you should seek medical attention.

Why Do Some Cat Scratches Puff Up?

Puffiness or swelling around a cat scratch is your body’s natural response to injury.

When your skin is broken, your immune system springs into action to protect the body against potential infections. Blood vessels dilate and become more permeable, allowing more blood and immune cells to reach the affected area. This process can result in swelling or puffiness.

However, if the puffiness increases over time or is accompanied by other signs like severe redness, warmth, pus, or increasing pain, these could be signs of an infection, such as Cat Scratch Disease, a condition caused by bacteria that may be carried on cat claws. If you notice these symptoms, it’s important to seek medical attention.

Your health provider may prescribe antibiotics to manage the infection effectively. Regular monitoring of cat scratches, especially ones that puff up, is a good practice for every cat owner.

How to Heal a Cat Scratch

Addressing a cat scratch promptly can help expedite the healing process and lower the risk of complications. Here’s a step-by-step guide:

  1. Clean the Scratch. Gently wash the area with warm water and mild soap to clear any bacteria that might cause an infection. One of the gentle soaps that we recommend for cleaning cat scratches is Dove Sensitive Skin Beauty Bar. This soap is unscented and hypoallergenic, making it a safe option for most skin types.
  2. Apply an Over-the-Counter Antibiotic. After cleaning the scratch, apply a thin layer of an antibiotic ointment to prevent infection. A trusted choice for an over-the-counter antibiotic ointment is Neosporin. This product helps prevent infection and accelerates healing time.
  3. Cover with a Clean Bandage. Protect the scratch from further injury and keep it clean by covering it with a bandage. We recommend Band-Aid Brand Flexible Fabric Adhesive Bandages. These bandages are durable and flexible, allowing for comfortable protection of the scratch area.
  4. Monitor for Signs of Infection. Keep an eye on the scratch over the next 2-3 days. If redness, swelling, pus forms, or the scratch doesn’t start healing within this period, seek medical help immediately

Remember, every scratch is different, and the body may respond differently, so always seek professional medical advice if you’re unsure. And remember, declawing is never the answer.


What should I do immediately after a cat scratch?

Start by cleaning the scratch thoroughly with warm water and mild soap, then apply a thin layer of over-the-counter antibiotic ointment. Cover the scratch with a clean bandage to prevent further injury and infection.

Can a small cat scratch cause an infection?

Even a minor cat scratch can potentially cause an infection if not cleaned and treated properly, due to bacteria on the cat’s claws or the environment.

How can I prevent my cat from scratching me?

To prevent your cat from scratching you, try providing suitable outlets for their scratching behavior, like scratching posts (you can even train your cat to use these posts). Regular nail trims can also reduce the risk of scratches.

Are there home remedies for healing a cat scratch faster?

A clean, bandaged wound generally heals faster. Some home remedies like applying honey or aloe vera gel might help soothe the scratch, but they are not replacements for cleaning the wound, antibiotic ointment, and medical advice if needed.

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